The history of Jews in Poland has more than 1000 years. For centuries, Poland has been home to the largest and most significant Jewish community in the world. Poland was the main center of Jewish culture, thanks to a long period of statutory tolerance and social autonomy. This ended with the partition of Poland, which began in 1772, in particular, with discrimination and the persecution of Jews in the Russian Empire. During World War II, there was an almost complete genocidal extermination of the Polish Jewish community with Nazi Germany and its employees, during the 1939-1945 German occupation of Poland and the ensuing Holocaust. After the fall of communism in Poland, there was a Jewish revival, featuring the annual Jewish Culture Festival, new curricula at Polish high schools and universities, the work of synagogues such as Nozick Synagogue, and Warsaw’s Museum of the History of Polish Jews.
From the founding of the Kingdom of Poland in 1025 until the beginning of the years of the Commonwealth, created in 1569, Poland was the most tolerant country in Europe. The country has become a haven for the persecuted and expelled Jewish communities in Europe and is home to the world’s largest Jewish community of the time. According to some reports, about three quarters of the Jews of the world lived in Poland in the middle of the 16th century. After the partition of Poland in 1795 and the destruction of Poland as a sovereign state, Polish Jews were subject to laws of separation of powers, an increasingly anti-Semitic Russia empire, as well as Austria-Hungary and the Kingdom of Prussia (later part of the German empire). However, as Poland regained its independence after the First World War, it was the center of the European Jewish world with one of the largest Jewish communities in the world with over 3 million people.
At the beginning of World War II, Poland was divided between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union (see the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact). One fifth of the population of Poland died during World War II; 3,000,000 Polish Jews killed in the Holocaust, who made up 90% of Polish Jewry, made up half of all Poles who died during the war. Despite the fact that the Holocaust occurred mainly in Poland occupied by Germans, there was little cooperation with the Nazis and its citizens. The cooperation of individual Poles was described as less than in other occupied countries. Grouped by nationality, Poles represent the largest number of people who saved Jews during the Holocaust.
In the post-war period, many of the approximately 200,000 surviving Jews registered with the Central Committee of Polish Jews or the CKŻP (of which 136,000 came from the Soviet Union) left the Polish People’s Republic for the nascent state of Israel and the North or South America. Their departure was accelerated by the destruction of Jewish institutions, the post-war violence and hostility of the Communist Party to religion and private enterprise, but also because in 1946-1947 Poland was the only Eastern bloc country to allow free Jewish repatriation to Israel without visas or exit permits.
Early History: 966-1385
The first Jews arrived on the territory of modern Poland in the 10th century. Traveling along trade routes leading east to Kiev and Bukhara, Jewish merchants known as Rahdonites crossed Silesia. One of them, a diplomat and merchant from the Moorish city of Tortosa in Spanish, Al Andalus, known for his Arabic name, Ibrahim ibn Yakub, was the first chronicler to mention the Polish state ruled by Prince Meshko I. In the summer of 965 or 966, Jacob made a trade and a diplomatic trip from his native Toledo to Muslim Spain in the Holy Roman Empire and Slavic countries. The first permanent Jewish community was mentioned in 1085 by the Jewish scholar Yehuda Hakogen in the city of Przemysl.
As in other countries of Central and Eastern Europe, the main activity of Jews in medieval Poland was commerce and trade, including the export and import of goods such as cloth, linen, furs, leather, wax, metal objects, and slaves.
Early medieval Polish coins with inscriptions in Hebrew.
The first extensive Jewish emigration from Western Europe to Poland occurred at the time of the first crusade in 1098. Under Boleslaw III (1102-1139), Jews, encouraged by the tolerant regime of this ruler, settled in Poland, including abroad on Lithuanian territory, as far as This is Kiev . Jews worked on order for the coins of other modern Polish princes, including Casimir the righteous, Boleslav I Tall and Vladislav III a lanky man.
Another factor for Jews to emigrate to Poland was Magdeburg Law, or Magdeburg Law, the charter gave the Jews, in particular, the rights and privileges that Jews entering into Poland specifically set out. For example, they could identify their surroundings and economic competitors and establish a monopoly. This made him very attractive for Jewish communities to pick up and move to Poland.
There were, however, among the reigning princes some of the strongest defenders of the Jewish inhabitants, who considered the latter’s presence the most desirable, as far as the country’s economic development was concerned. A prominent place among such rulers was Boleslav the Pious of Kalisz, Prince of Great Poland. With the consent of class representatives and senior officials, in 1264 he issued a general charter of Jewish freedoms, in the Statute of Kalisz, which granted all Jews freedom of religion, trade and travel. Similar benefits were granted to Silesian Jews by local princes, Prince Henry Prob Wroclaw in 1273-90, Henry Glogow in 1274 and 1299, Henry Legnica in 1290 – 95, and Bolko Legnica and Wroclaw in 1295.
Over the next hundred years, the Church insists on the persecution of the Jews, while the Polish rulers usually defended them.
In 1332, King Casimir III the Great (1303-1370) strengthened and expanded the old Boleslaw charter with the Wiślicki Statute. During his reign, flows of Jewish immigrants headed east to Poland and Jewish settlements were first mentioned as existing in Lviv (1356), Sandomy.
Early Jagiellon era: 1385-1505
As a result of the marriage of Wladislaus II (Jagiello) to Jadwiga, daughter of Louis I of Hungary, Lithuania merged with the Kingdom of Poland. In 1388-1389, widespread privileges were extended to Lithuanian Jews, including freedom of religion and trade on equal terms with Christians. In 1349, pogroms took place in many cities in Silesia. There were accusations of slanderous blood by priests, and new riots against Jews in Poznan in 1399 Charges of slandering blood by another fanatical priest led to riots in Hysteria, the death caused by Black led to additional outbreaks of the fourteenth century violence against Jews in Kalisz, Krakow and Bochnite. Merchants and artisans of jealous Jewish prosperity, and fearing their rivalry, supported the persecution.
In 1423, the statute of Wark forbade Jews from granting loans in respect of letters of credit or mortgages and limited its activities exclusively to loans secured by movable property. In the 14th and 15th centuries wealthy Jewish merchants and money lenders rented the royal mint, salt mines and collected customs and duties.
Also, Jews from Grodno during this period were owners of villages, estates, meadows, fish ponds and mills. However, until the end of the 15th century, agriculture as a source of income played only a minor role among Jewish families. More important were the ships for the needs of both their tribesmen and the Christian population (fur making, tanning, tailoring).
Casimir IV affirmed and expanded Jewish charters in the second half of the 15th century
In 1454, anti-Jewish riots broke out in the Czech Republic with ethnically German Wroclaw and other neighboring cities, inspired by a Franciscan monk, John Capistrano, who accused Jews of defiling the Christian religion. As a result, the Jews were expelled from Lower Silesia. In the same year, Alexander Jagellonov, following the example of the Spanish rulers, expelled the Jews from Lithuania. For several years they took refuge in Poland, until they were allowed to return to the Grand Duchy of Lithuania in 1503.
The decline in Jewish status was briefly checked by Casimir IV Jagiellon (1447-1492), but soon the nobility forced him to issue the Neshava statute. Among other things, he canceled the ancient privileges of the Jews “as contrary to divine law and the law of the earth.” However, the king continued to offer his protection to the Jews. The government’s policy towards the Jews of Poland fluctuated under Casimir sons and heirs, John I Alberta (1492-1501) and Alexander Jagellonov (1501-1506). The latter decided in 1495 to expel the Jews from the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, when he was the Grand Duke of Lithuania, but changed his mind eight years later, in 1503 after becoming king of Poland. The following year, he issued a decree in which he declared that a policy of tolerance was fitting for a “king and ruler.”
Center for the Jewish World: 1505-72
Sigismund II Augustus followed the tolerant policy of his father, and also provided autonomy for the Jews.
Poland became more tolerant in the same way that Jews were expelled from Spain in 1492, as well as from Austria, Hungary and Germany, thereby stimulating Jewish immigration to much more accessible Poland.
In 1503, the Polish monarchy appointed Rabbi Jacob Pollack, the official rabbi of Poland, noting the appearance of the chief rabbinate. By 1551, Jews received permission to choose their own chief rabbi. The chief rabbinate held power over the law and finance, appointing judges and other officials. Only 30% of the funds raised by the rabbinate served Jewish reasons, the rest went crown for protection. During this period, Poland-Lithuania became the main center of Ashkenazi Jewry and its yeshiva gained fame in the early 16th century.
Polish Jews and the struggle for independence of Poland
While most Polish Jews were neutral about the idea of a Polish state, many played a significant role in the struggle for Poland’s independence during World War I; About 650 Jews joined Legiony POLSKIE, formed by Jozef Pilsudski, more than all other minorities combined.
In the aftermath of the Great War, localized conflicts swallowed up Eastern Europe between 1917 and 1919. Many attacks were carried out against Jews during the Russian Civil War, the Polish-Ukrainian War, and the Polish-Soviet War ending with the Riga Treaty. Almost half of the Jewish men perceived supported Bolshevik Russia in these incidents in their 20s. Immediately after the end of World War I, the West became alarmed by reports of alleged massacres of massacres in Poland against Jews. Pressure on government action reached the point where US President Woodrow Wilson sent an official commission to investigate the matter. The commission, led by Henry Morgenthau, Sr., concluded in his Morgenthau report that allegations of pogroms were exaggerated. He identified eight incidents in 1918-1919 from 37 mostly empty claims for damages, and estimated the number of victims at 280. Four of them were related to the actions of deserters and undisciplined individual soldiers; no one was accused of official government policy. Among the incidents, during the battle of Pinsk, the commander of the Polish infantry regiment accused a group of Jewish men of conspiring against the Poles and ordered the execution of thirty-five Jewish men and youth.
Many other events in Poland were later found to be exaggerated, especially by modern newspapers such as The New York Times, although serious abuses against Jews, including pogroms, continued elsewhere, especially in Ukraine. The above-mentioned atrocities of the young Polish army and its allies in 1919 during their work Kiev against the Bolsheviks had a profound impact on the perception of the foreign Polish state reappear. The result of concerns about the fate of Jews in Poland was a series of explicit provisions in the Treaty of Versailles, signed by the Western powers, and President Paderewski, defending minority rights in new Poland, including the German. In March 1921 in Poland, the Constitution gave Jews the same legal rights as other citizens, and guaranteed them religious tolerance and freedom of religious holidays.
The number of Jews immigrating to Poland from Ukraine and Soviet Russia during the interwar period grew rapidly. The Jewish population in the area of the former Congress of Poland increased sevenfold between 1816 and 1921, from about 213,000 to about 1,500,000. According to the Polish National Census of 1921, there were 2,845,364 Jews living in the Second Polish Republic; but by the end of 1938 this figure had grown by more than 16% to approximately 3,310,000. The average rate of permanent settlement was about 30,000 per year. At the same time, every year about 100,000 Jews passed through Poland in unofficial emigration abroad. Between the end of the Polish-Soviet war and the end of 1938, the Jewish population of the republic grew by more than 464,000.